Tapping into his inner-goth for a role in the latest revival of the legendary Rocky Horror Show wasn’t actually too much of a stretch for TV comic and writer Dom Joly.
Back in the early ’90s he was doing his best impersonation of The Cure’s frontman Robert Smith as singer for indie-also-rans Hang David.
But his role as The Narrator in Richard O’Brien’s rock’n’roll musical doesn’t actually call on him to show off his vocal talents.
‘I don’t get to sing which is annoying, even though I’d be terrified! I can sing, I think. My band wasn’t that far away from Rocky. One of the great things about Rocky is that the songs were written in 1973, around that time when Bowie was putting out things like Diamond Dogs, and the songs have got that sort of vibe to them.’
The musical is O’Brien’s tribute to sci-fi and horror B-movies of the mid-20th century, and features a soundtrack that became a hit in its own right, with memorable songs like The Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite. ‘Some of them are a bit cheesy, but brilliantly cheesy, like Dammit Janet, and so on, but some of the sadder songs like I’m Going Home, are incredible – I’m not saying my band did that sort of stuff, but I like sad songs.
‘That’s the thing about musicals – they’re often upbeat and I’m a natural goth, but this has got sad beats, which I love as well.
‘Everyone thinks the show is all about fishnets and weirdness, and it is that, but there’s a moment in the last third where it turns and it’s quite sad, and I like that.’
Unlike many comedians, Dom doesn’t have roots in stand-up – he sees himself primarily as a writer, and is probably best known for his hit sketch show on Channel 4, Trigger Happy TV. And as such, he has never appeared on stage before.
‘Originally I was just booked to do the opening of the show in Brighton for a month. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a massive fan of musicals, I’d always be wondering: “Why is everybody suddenly singing in the middle of the story?” And no-one ever refers to it! It’s just not my area. People are always very happy and it goes against everything in my personal philosophy as an ex-goth.’
When he was contacted about taking on the part in the show, he’d never seen the musical, and only seen the film once: ‘It was late at night in Notting Hill in about 1990 and I just remembered this madness of people shouting stuff and throwing rice, and not really taking it all in.
‘I said I don’t think it’s really for me at all. But they said The Narrator is an interesting role – it’s kind of a halfway house between the cast and the audience and you get to do a lot of ad-libbing and that’s kind of what I do, so I thought ok.’
Now however, Dom has become a total convert – for Rocky, at least.
‘I thought I would just do that and that would be it. I was so nervous when I first did it, but I loved it. I’m absolutely obsessed with the show now and I asked to do more.
‘It’s amazing. There’s nothing like it, and I admit I don’t have a huge repertoire there to compare it to, but basically the audience knows the show better than the cast on stage and you’re basically doing a show where the audience is totally involved, and they’re better than us sometimes!’
Dom is joined in the cast by Blue singer and Hollyoaks actor Duncan James as Frank, Strictly Come Dancing champion-turned musical star Joanne Clifton as Janet, and boyband a1’s Ben Adams as Brad.
‘The fanclub, which can be particularly virulent gave us the thumbs up,’ Dom notes. ‘They said we were the best cast they’d seen, so that was amazing. Maybe they say that to all of them, but we’ll take it.’
Now he’s been bitten by the bug, would he ever fancy a crack at any other parts in the show, say Frank?
‘No, no, no!’ he laughs. ‘The one thing I’ve really found doing this show, and I know it sounds cheesy, but I hadn’t realised, stupidly, is that they’re so full-on. Not only are they doing their own roles every night and nailing it, but they’re also covering. So if Riff Raff goes off, or our Frank, as happened recently, someone steps up and takes their role.
‘It’s too much like hard work for me.
‘But what I have loved is that it’s live – I’ve never really had a live audience before. The rush when an audience is really going for it, it’s quite astonishing, it’s like a drug.’
Dom has found it’s a common misconception that he has done stand-up, and as such would be used to dealing with hecklers – a regular feature of any Rocky Horror Show performance.
‘Stand-up has no interest to me at all.
‘I didn’t know until I stepped on stage on the first night, whether I could do it. You can rehearse as much as you like, but really my job is rehearsing with the audience, so you just don’t know. But after that I thought, “Oh my god, I love this!” So it was great.’
Given how much he’s enjoying this experience, can he see more musical theatre in his future?
‘My main thing is writing really – I’ve got a book coming out in June, and I’ve just written two sitcoms, and that’s what I love, but this has definitely given me a taste for it.
‘And I love the fact that it happens in the evening. When I was in Woking, I went into London every day and did my usual work, then came back in the evening and did the show, it was brilliant.
‘I think the role of the narrator is rare though, it’s so perfectly suited for me, I’d be lucky to fit another one that fits me so well – I’m bigging up my part a bit here...’
Dom’s been involved in another project recently that you can see on TV pretty much everywhere but here in the UK, but not for want of trying – a series called How Beer Changed The World.
‘It’s out in 59 countries, but we’ve got an issue here. Its a bit odd. It’s been made by Warner Brothers and they got financing from Carlsberg, even though Carlsberg had absolutely no input into the show at all – and that was part of the contract.
‘We went around the world, literally exploring the history of beer. And if people were worried it would favour Carlsberg, the main thing that came out of it was that micro-brewing is the future, which is the exact opposite of what they do!
‘But there are really strict rules with Ofcom here, so they can’t show it. Warner Brothers are trying to save it, but it’s a bit annoying.
‘It was supposed to go on Channel 4, and they dropped it, then Channel 5 were going to show it but they got nervous.
‘I don’t like shows that are just a walking promotion, but this genuinely is a history of beer.’
When he was called up with the offer to do the show, apropos of nothing, he jumped at the chance to travel the world and drink beer.
‘I was with Olly Smith, the wine guy from Saturday Kitchen, who I thought would really annoy me – he’s all bubbly and “cheers!”, which I thought would grate on me, but really he’s just as miserable as me! He’s slightly trapped in his role as “Cheery Olly”.
‘He is genuinely lovely, and I would say if I hate someone – we’re actually looking at doing another show together.’
ROCKY HORROR SHOW
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton